Ask DadPad, Parenting Advice

Ask DadPad: Why should I read books to my baby and child?

Posted on 31st March 2023

Every year, either on or close to 2nd April – which is the birthday of Danish author Hans Christian Anderson – International Children’s Book Day is “celebrated to inspire a love of reading and to call attention to children’s books“.

That has inspired us to put together a blog post for dads-to-be and new dads, looking at some of the reasons why reading books with your little ones is a Really Good Thing to do, and we’ve also spoken to some of our lovely ‘friends of DadPad’ to ask them to share with us their recommendation for a favourite children’s book, which you’ll find listed at the end.

Why read with babies and children?

For many of us, reading is a favourite pastime and we will be keen to share and pass that enjoyment onto our children at the earliest opportunity.

For others, though, we might not be so confident in our own reading abilities or in reading aloud, or we might find ourselves pushed for time, or feel that books are now outdated.  If you fall into this category, you’re not alone. According to an article from The National Literacy Trust in 2020, fewer than half of all 0-2 year olds are read to on a daily (or an almost daily) basis by their parents, but figures from 2019 suggest that 48% of these children will have had up to an hour’s screen time each day and 42% will spend between one and three hours a day interacting with a screen.

Whichever group you fall into, it’s worth starting with a reminder from The Book Trust of three key reasons why it’s important to make the time to read with our little ones:

  1. Reading together is a great for bonding and building a strong and loving relationship with your child.
  2. The routine of sharing stories and rhymes helps your child communicate and will support their wellbeing.
  3. Children who are read to from an early age do better when they get to school – learning rhymes and stories together will give them a flying start!

A time for bonding…

We’ve talked before in detail on the ways in which, as a dad, you can build a strong and loving bond with your baby, and why it’s so important – for both of you – to do this.  It’s a common misconception that bonding with baby from Day One is something that’s only for mums, but the reality is that building a secure attachment with your baby (and child) is equally important for – and able to be achieved by – dads, too. You can read our How do I bond with my baby? blog in full here but, for now, here’s an extract from that article on how communication is one of many great ways of building a bond with your baby:

Talking to your baby with a gentle voice will help you get to know each other.  Your baby will soon recognise, and turn his head to, the sound of your voice.  You don’t need to worry about what you say to him: just try talking about what you’re doing together, or what you can see around you, as well as things like how beautiful he is and how much you love him…

Reading, then, is the perfect opportunity to familiarise your baby with your voice, especially as babies and children “who are read to regularly develop stronger attachment and positive relationships with their adults” (Jo Knuckey, Project Manager at the Literacy Trust in Cornwall).  Although your baby won’t understand what you are saying, he will recognise your voice and hopefully a familiar routine – such as a bedtime story with daddy, or a snuggle together on the sofa as you read from a favourite book – will become a real comfort to him.

It’s also been noted in a research study into the effects of parental book-reading to premature babies in neonatal intensive care units that, not only did the reading have positive effects on the babies – by, for example, “supporting the need to expose premature newborn infants to parental voices” – but it also could also help their parents to engage positively with their baby, and to better “cope with a difficult experience, reinstating their role as primary caregiver.”

We’ll end this section with a quote from an article on the website of the National Literacy Trust:

Regularly reading to a child for the love of it provides a connection between parent and child from the very early days and helps build strong family ties.

Helping with communication skills…

Helping your baby and child develop their all-important communication skills is something that you, as a dad, can really get involved with – and the rewards you’ll get are great.  Jo from the National Literacy Trust  gave us some suggestions of simple ways for dads to do this:

  • Chat, play and read with your baby every day;
  • In your daily interactions, show your child what you value most and role model the skills that you want to pass to your child;
  • Spend time face-to-face with your child, so that they see your expressions and get used to communication being two-way;
  • Watch the focus of your child and respond to their interests;
  • Narrate your day, however silly you might feel, so that your baby’s day is filled with words.

Some of these might sound a bit uncomfortable or scary for you to start with but you’ll soon find lots of opportunities to try them out – especially if you get hands-on in your baby’s day-to-day care. As we advise in our DadPads, talking with your baby in a gentle voice when you’re changing, bathing or feeding them, for example, are all great ways to start this. Not only will you be helping your baby learn how to communicate, but you’ll also be gently calming yourself down if you’re feeling a bit nervous in carrying out these new skills AND continuing to build a secure bond with your little one. Win win!

Jo also mentions reading in her first bullet point, and there’s loads of evidence to show the ways in which your child’s speech, language and communication skills will be enhanced by regularly being read to – and, in due course, reading by themselves – throughout their childhood.

For example, studies have shown that children who were read to as newborns have a larger vocabulary than other children of the same age – a study from 2019 established the amazing statistic that reading one picture book a day to your baby or child will expose them to a staggering 78,000 words every year!

As they become familiar with the words that you speak to them out loud in your shared story time and other interactions, they’ll start trying to say them for themselves.

As they get a little older, you’ll be able to actively look together at the illustrations in their picture books. This gives you both the chance to talk together about what you can see – some children’s books have the most detailed and visually-inviting pictures, which are the perfect invitation for opening a discussion with your child. Questions like the following all give your child opportunities to learn how to: interact in a conversation; use their developing knowledge of words to firstly decode (understand) and then respond to questions; empathise with characters and situations; and apply their understanding of the story to predict outcomes – all key skills for learning and life!

  • What can you see?
  • What do you think is going to happen next?
  • How many blue things can you spot?
  • What’s your favourite bit of this picture?
  • How do you think he’s feeling right now?

You might think that dreaming up and then asking these questions will be tricky – and it might well be at first – but, with practice, you’ll find it gets easier, especially as your child starts to respond to you in a positive way.

And, when they do, don’t also forget to use these interactions – and, indeed, your own storytelling – to also model equally-important non-verbal communication skills.  Smile positively at your child’s responses to your questions, demonstrate by your facial expressions the emotions the characters might be feeling as you read the story (happy, sad, worried, funny, etc), and also maybe learn some actions to go alongside some of the rhymes that you read aloud together (‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ is a great one to start with).

And as they get older still, you can gradually start to familiarise your child with the letters and words which appear in their stories; this will all help them begin to develop the essential skills needed to learn to read. A good starting place is to look together for the letter that appears at the start of their name, or to recognise the ‘shape’ of common words which will appear frequently in stories – ‘and’, ‘the’ and ‘it’, for example.

Increasing the chances of success at school…

Another major benefit of reading regularly to your child – as we briefly touched upon above – is that it’s been shown to have a really positive impact on your child’s ability to thrive at school. Early Years Education Consultant, Maureen Hunt, has noted that:

Reading has a profound impact on children’s academic success. Those that can read well are better able to access the curriculum, make more progress and achieve better outcomes.

One of the reasons for this is undoubtedly the sheer volume of words that they will have been exposed to if they’ve been raised in a family that has instilled a daily reading habit from the very start – as we saw in the figures quoted in the previous section.  Jo from the National Literacy Trust explains:

A child’s vocabulary at two years of age is one of the strongest indicators of their academic success later in their school life.

And it’s more than just learning the words. Through reading books, children are also picking up lots of other ‘clues’ and information which will help them develop a whole other range of skills needing for learning, for school and for life.  Jo explains:

Regular sharing of books with young children shows them all of those early skills, like navigating a book and looking for information in pictures. Early exposure to stories and rhymes helps develop their vocabulary so that they understand the sense of stories, aiding comprehension and inference skills.

Perhaps surprisingly, research has also shown that children who have been regularly read to since birth will also have “more advanced mathematical skills than other kids their age.”

So this is why it is so important for us, as parents, to try – wherever possible – to make the time to read with our babies and children from the very beginning, and then to continue this as often as possible.  Maureen Hunt confirms that: “The evidence is clear that the parental role is hugely important in developing children’s attitudes to and skills in reading“, and Alison David adds:

By starting the journey of building a lifelong love of reading for pleasure, parents are giving the child the opportunity to be the best they can be: children who read for pleasure do better in a wide range of subjects at school and it also positively impacts children’s wellbeing.

Maureen also quotes from an academic study which states that:

Early reading experiences with their parents prepare children for the benefits of formal literacy instruction. Indeed, parental involvement in their child’s reading has been found to be the most important determinant of language and emergent literacy. [Bus et al, 1995]

And there are lots of other benefits, too!

Added to all the amazing and inspiring points set out above, don’t forget that reading books with your little ones can also help them to:

  • learn about the wider world, by introducing them to places, people, animals, and experiences that they might not otherwise encounter in their early years.  You can introduce them to family structures and children’s lives which are different to their own, inspirational heroes, magical lands, outer space, historical times… and so much more – all from the comfort of their own home!
  • appreciate the different meanings and effect that words and phrases can have when spoken in different ways. And it’s also a great chance for you to develop a whole range of comedy voices, to keep your children enthralled and entertained with the storytelling experience;
  • develop a love of their family’s language as they learn the beauty and fun of rhymes and onomatopoeic words (those which sound like the noise they describe – e.g. sizzle, pop, roar, and so on);
  • navigate their own emotions by seeing children similar to them cope with their own fears, worries, and upsets; and
  • understand that reading is fun!

Perhaps this last one is the one that potentially holds the most value to your child.  Alongside all the advantages that early reading brings, we mustn’t forget the lifelong benefits of having a love of books – including:

  • a reduction in stress levels: research has shown that reading for as little as six minutes a day can reduce your overall levels of stress;
  • an opportunity to escape from the ‘real world’, even if only for a short time; and
  • as with all cognitive activities, a slowing down of memory loss in older age.

There’s even research which indicates that reading and then talking about what you’ve read can be of benefit to our mental health and wellbeing.

So, as Maureen Hunt notes:

Take the time to just spread the joy and read as much and as often as you can to your children, so that they get hooked for life – it could be the most important gift you give them.

Inspiring books to read with your babies and children

If you’re not sure what books to start reading to your little ones, we’ve got some recommendations for you here.  We love the various reasons that cropped up in the answers people gave us…

  • Some recommend books that they’ve loved reading with their children, whilst others remember books from their own childhood.
  • Some of the book recommendations are of picture books, suitable for sharing together, right from the very start, whereas others are longer, more text-heavy books, more suited to reading aloud to snuggled-in-bed toddlers and older children.
  • For some it’s the images in the books that they remember, whilst for others it’s the characters, who become friends.
  • Some love the books because of the positive messages they share; for others it’s the language, the rhyming and the repetition, the familiarity, comfort and sometimes fun that that brings.
  • And, whilst some of our recommended books have inspired lifelong interests, beliefs and even careers, others are treasured simply because of the comforting memories that they reignite.

Lots of the reasons given tie in with the benefits that we’ve set out above – and we’ve done our best to group them according to the reasons given (although there’s lots of overlap!), so that you can look out for these when you’re choosing a book from our list.

We’re also delighted – but not all that surprised – to see some of the most well-known and well-loved authors of books for children appearing in our list.  Books by people like Eric Carle, Roald Dahl, Julia Donaldson, Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr, Tony Mitton, and Dr Seuss are always worth searching out.

Finally, do remember that reading to your children doesn’t need to cost a fortune:

  • Joining your local library will not only get you free access to a huge number of age-suitable books for your growing family, but many also hold regular storytime and/or activity sessions for small children and their parents;
  • Charity shops are a great place to visit to find lots and lots of books – often in an ‘as new’ state – at really affordable prices; and
  • The Book Trust run schemes which provide free bundles of books to children at birth and at other key pre-school stages.  You can find out more about this here.

Books which elicit memories of close connections between parents and children:

  • Oh, the places you’ll go! by Dr Seuss – recommended by Adam Rockley, Marketing Manager at Help for Heroes, freelance marketing consultant at DadPad, and dad of three:

This is, without doubt, one of my favourites that I believe has some life lessons that I can continue to share with my children as they grow up. We often go back to this book a few times a year and I’ll continue to do so until they’re too bored of me. A good friend of mine actually gave this to my own children as a gift as it brought back fond memories of him and his dad reading it when he was a child. My hope is that my children share that same sentiment when they’re a little older.

  • The Twits by Roald Dahl – recommended by Jeszemma Howl, Head of Training at The Fatherhood Institute:

My daughter loves her dad reading The Twits, almost as much as he loves reading it to her. It was his favourite at school and they often plot schemes similar to spaghetti worms and the growing walking stick. It’s naughty, funny and they are despicable characters – the wonderful Roald Dahl does despicable so well.

  • Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne – recommended by Beth Mayman, Operations Manager at our print partners, St Austell Printing Company, and mum of two teens:

A total classic! We read Winnie the Pooh books with our children throughout their childhood, not sure if perhaps we enjoyed it more than they did! You can’t help but fall in love with the characters – Piglet, Eeyore, Tigger and the rest – who seem to become your own friends, too!  My daughter continued to read Winnie the Pooh books on her own as well as listen on audio books when she was feeling tired or poorly – always lifted her spirits!

  • The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith – recommended by Matt Ball, Director of Operations at Mini First Aid and dad of six:

Whenever it’s Daddy’s turn to read the bedtime story, our daughter P always requests this one as it’s her absolute favourite… and that’s probably because it’s my favourite to read to them. It’s very funny – and quite the tongue twister by the end!

Books with great language:

I absolutely loved reading this book to my children when they were younger. Now they are a lot older but I’ve still kept this particular book as it makes me smile so much. “Shake, shake, shudder….near the sludgy old swamp. The dinosaurs are coming. Get ready to romp”. It’s a full-on crazy rhyming story which you can’t help but put a tune to. You also can’t help acting out crazy moves like the hilarious images of the dinosaurs in the book. Probably not the best story to read just before bedtime, though, as it can become quite animated!

  • The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson – recommended by Jo Knuckey, Project Manager for the National Literacy Trust in Cornwall:

I love this book because it reminds me of how much fun I had sharing it with my children.  The adventure through the woods inspired us to go on walks to local woods and look for the Gruffalo and other creatures.  In my role at the National Literacy Trust I love acting out the story with a local nursery class and finding soft toy versions of the creatures in the trees at Tehidy Country Park [near Redruth, in Cornwall – and there are a whole number of specially-designed Gruffalo trails all over the UK – you can search to see if there’s one near you via the Forestry England website].  From a language development point of view there is some wonderfully descriptive vocabulary, and the rhyme and rhythm of the story makes it a gift to read and re-read aloud.

  • McElligot’s Pool by Dr Seuss – recommended by Julian Bose, CEO at DadPad:

I remember that, when reading this book, it carried me off on a journey, through its use of poem-like prose and onomatopoeia. I also loved the fact that the boy, who had been told that he couldn’t catch any fish, stood his ground and explained that, with imagination and creativity, anything was possible.  This inspired me to believe and wonder about how life could be magical, even when you are alone.

Books with an inspiring message:

  • Bodies are cool by Tyler Feder recommended by Georgie Watson, Project Officer at DadPad, and mum of two:

This is one of our daughter’s favourite books that she asks to read with us, because she loves the rhythm of the words and the colourful, busy scenes on each page. The book is a celebration of all the different human bodies you might see out in the world. It highlights the various skin tones, body shapes, hair types and body differences you might see, in an inclusive and joyful book. I originally bought her this book because I could see that she was beginning to compare her own body with others and I wanted to be able to have open discussions with her about this, rather than wait for her to point things out (sometimes loudly) about others or herself! Having struggled with my body image myself and my body going through many changes since my first pregnancy, I am keen for my daughter to have a more positive view towards her own body and to understand that bodily changes do happen to everyone (and that is normal and OK).

  • Charlotte’s Web by EB White – recommended by Prof Minesh Khashu, Consultant Neonatologist at Poole Hospital and co-developer of our DadPad Neonatal resource:

A children’s book that is equally useful for all age groups as a powerful reminder of our innocence as children and our relationship with change and death, all through our lives. 

  • Two Can Toucan by David McKee – recommended by Jeszemma Howl, Head of Training at The Fatherhood Institute:

This was my favourite book when I was little, and I have loved reading it with all my daughters, and now my grandson. The illustrations are so reminiscent of the 70’s, when the idea of ever seeing a toucan was impossible, office workers wore bowler hats and having a name was important. It really does speak from a different era, but for us it’s about acceptance, and finding your own place in the world.

Books with inspiring illustrations:

  • Dogger by Shirley Hughes – recommended by Hannah Bose, Head of Quality at DadPad:

An absolute favourite book from my own childhood – which I borrowed on repeat from our local library. It tells the story of a favourite toy that gets lost and eventually ends up in a second-hand sale: I think it resonated with me as I had my own, special toy that I absolutely dreaded ever losing! I’ve since loved reading Dogger and many, many other Shirley Hughes books with our own children. In fact, we’ve ended up with quite the collection of books by Shirley – some bought at school fairs and charity shops – as our daughter in particular loved the wonderfully-illustrated and gentle tales, including those featuring Lucy and Tom, and Lily and Bobbo. Her favourites, though, were undoubtedly the Alfie and Annie Rose tales, about a dear little boy who demonstrates so many emotions of early childhood in really relatable ways!

  • The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein – recommended by Grant Alexander, Project Manager at Vitamin Cornwall, our supporting creative and development partners:

My strongest memory of books as a child (and something that informed my cultural tastes to this day!) was a broad format edition of The Hobbit which was fully illustrated by Devon-based artist, Allen Lee. The cover had a bright orange illustration of the treasure hoarding dragon, Smaug. I fell in love with the fantasy genre from there, going so far as to pursue a degree in Creative Media and film production from an obsession with the resulting film franchise, which Lee also worked on as a concept artist and production designer.

  • The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr – recommended by Beth Mayman, Operations Manager at our print partners, St Austell Printing Company, and mum of two teens:

Such as gentle, charming, warm book to read with our children – a simple story with lovely illustrations to capture the imagination. Despite the social stereotyping (first published in 1968), the story has a positive underlying moral message and it really engaged the interest of our children.  For a long period of time, this was our ‘go to’ book to read with the children at bedtime.  Sometimes, you find a book that the children wish to hear night after night and they don’t seem to get bored and this was it!

Books with ‘hidden’ opportunities to learn:

This was always fun to read with the boys and they would always join in. It is reported that repetition is a hugely important part of children’s development; along with other books, when my boys became familiar with the story, they would get excited about what the next page entailed and blurt out the next line as the suspension grew inside them. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was also really good for helping the boys develop an understanding of the days of the week, counting, nutrition, and the life cycle of a butterfly. An underlying message it presents to children, I think, is that, despite how you are feeling, you don’t always know where or how you will grow and the things you maybe don’t like about yourself can, with time, change or be embraced.


References and further reading:

The Book Trust (undated) Reading with your child: 0-12 months. [downloadable online]

Bus, A et al (1995) “Joint book reading makes for success in learning to read: A meta-analysis on intergenerational transmission of literacy” in Review of Educational Research65(1) [downloadable online]

David, Alison (2020) “Reading to children is so powerful, so simple and yet so misunderstood” at [online]

DiProperizo, Linda and Fox, Alison (2022) “The Benefits of Reading to Your Baby” at [online]

International Board on Books for Young People (undated) International Children’s Book Day. [online]

NCT (undated) Reading to your child: what’s the fuss about? [online]

Neri, Erica et al (2021) “Parental Book-Reading to Preterm Born Infants in NICU: The Effects on Language Development in the First Two Years” in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18 11361. [downloadable online]

The Telegraph (2009) Reading ‘can help reduce stress’. [online]

Timmins, Sydney (2018) “Why reading can be good for mental health”, at Mental Health First Aid ( [online]